March 15, 2016

The candidate “clipped a speech short, . . . as wild, chair swinging violence erupted at a rally.”

The candidate wasn’t Donald Trump though. It was George C. Wallace running as a third party candidate in 1968, at a rally in Detroit. The violence at Trump’s rallies, especially the cancelled one in Chicago, has some political observers recalling Wallace’s frightening 1968 campaign. Wallace and Trump have a lot in common.

For one thing, Wallace and Trump have both appealed to white working class men feeling economic distress and social isolation.  The demographic makeup of a Trump rally has been obvious to the large audiences he assures CNN, Fox, etc, for nearly every speech they televise. Videos of white male Trump backers assaulting African American protesters have gone viral. Wallace protested that “the pseudo-intellectuals and the theoreticians and some professors and some newspaper editors and some judges and some preachers have looked down their nose long enough at the average man on the street: the pipe-fitter, the communications worker, the fireman, the policeman, the barber, the white collar worker.” Trump tells us that America never wins at anything anymore, but he’ll “make America great again.” Wallace complained that “Our system is under attack: the property system, the free enterprise system, and local government.”

Trump promises to build a wall to keep Mexican rapists and drug dealers out, and to ban Muslims from entering the country. Wallace’s backers believed he’d “get rid of all the Communists in government.” According to an account of a Wallace rally in the New York Times, “Some do not even know the details regarding the things he says. He is against ‘them’—and he ‘says what he thinks.’” Another interviewee at the New York rally – a police officer – stated that Wallace “is the only guy . . . who is telling it like it is.” This sounds like a Trump follower for sure – they all seem to think Trump “tells it like it is.”

Both candidates understood how to manipulate and bait protesters to their own advantage: Until Chicago, protesters at Trump rallies gave him the opportunity to act tough against liberals, bellowing “Get ‘em out” a catchphrase that has replaced “you’re fired.” Wallace welcomed protesters too. At an October 24, 1968 rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wallace mocked protesters: “Yes, you'd better have your say now, because you are going to be through after November 5, I can assure you that. . . .  And, you came for trouble, you sure got it.”

The presence of 3500 police at the New York rally helped keep the violence down to some minor skirmishes, but in addition to the near riot at Detroit, fighting also broke out at a Wallace rally in Chicago.

Trump is even more callous, incendiary and vile than Wallace. The Alabaman didn’t bait and directly threaten protesters as Trump does, and he certainly didn’t offer to pay the legal fees of an assailant. Wallace also didn’t have the 24/7 cable coverage of a press that decries Trump’s behavior but profits off it, as Professor Duquette pointed out yesterday. Resentment was at the core of Wallace’s appeal and fuels Trump’s rise too. But the technology of communications is vastly more encompassing now, and Trump knows exactly how to exploit it.

So yes, we’ve seen this show before, but it’s returned in a more virulent and marketed form.

George C. Wallace, Donald Trump

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